Africans In The UCL: Morocco well represented as Ajax lose to VAR assisted Madrid
Sounds like the same narrative all over again, Real Madrid turning on the screw to conquer, pretty much to the “bereavement” of countless European opponents. The final scoreline on the night read 2-1 in favor of the visiting Los Blancos but revealed little of the night’s narrative.
Unheralded Ajax completely bossed the match to say the least, but the champions worked on winning it, which they did expertly. Erik Ten Hag’s youthful side bolstered by the talents of Frenkie De Jong, David Neres, Kasper Dolberg, Noussair Mazraoui; all who are 21 years of age except 19-year-old captain, Matthijs De Ligt - were unfazed by the challenge of the seasoned, record 13-time champions league winners. The visitors who have won the trophy four times in the last 5 seasons. A total shots of 19 compared to Madrid’s 13, 50-50 ball possession, 71.4% dribbles completion rate as opposed to Real’s 38.9%, 91 recoveries against the champions’ 74 amongst many other statistics further proves the point. In fact, the whole of first half belonged to Ajax who had a goal controversially ruled out for a foul after VAR consultation, a possible pardon to Thibaut Courtois who had been caught sleeping by Nicolas Tagliafico’s header from a corner. The scores were 0-0 at half-time but one of the biggest chances of the first 45, had fallen to one of the protagonists heading into the encounter, Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech who had his tame effort punched away by the Real Madrid goalkeeper from close range. That was moments after Tadic had his own effort hit the far post. Ziyech would however make amends in the second-half.
The champions broke the deadline at the hour mark, with only their second shot on target of the half as 18-year-old Vinicius Junior got the better of another Moroccan, Noussair Mazraoui. The Brazilian proved too much for the 21-year-old right back as well as two other Ajax defenders as he blazed past them to setup Benzema for an emphatic top corner finish past the 22-year-old Cameroonian goalkeeper, Andre Onana. If you are wondering, the answer is yes, they were actually quite a number of Africans on show in Amsterdam. Ziyech had proven to be a thorn in the flesh to Real from the get go, tackling attackers and pulling together markers to count the numbers on their shirts. The crowning moment came in the 75th minute as the 25-year-old Moroccan placed a shot past Courtois from a beautiful Neres cross. They could have had a second one moments later when a quick one-two between Ziyech and Tadic resulted in Dolberg blazing the final shot off target. In the end, it was Marco Asensio who came off the bench to win it for Madrid in the 87th minute by finishing off a swift counter attack.
Real Madrid would be delighted to go back to the Bernabeu with a one goal advantage, more so two away goals for that matter against a less experienced Ajax side, but nothing about their performance on the night gives the assurance that they are out of harm’s way. I am sticking to my prediction of the Dutch side upsetting the champions.
In other UCL round of 16 matches played on Tuesday, Kylian Mbappe and PSG finished it sweet and clean by overcoming Manchester United 2-0 at the Old Trafford, while Roma edge FC Porto 2-1. Before the return legs on the 6th of March, there are more champions league round of 16 fixtures coming up in the next week and we will be there to preview the matches with you.